Winter white is still all around us, even on this relatively late date of March 23rd…Still about 24 inches of snow in the woods…and we’ve had nearly 4 feet of snow since mid February. So I thought it was fitting for a photo round up of some of our white winter critters. The Ermine above was photographed near a feeding station in the Sax-Zim Bog of northern Minnesota. Two Ermine were regularly feasting on deer rib cages and chunks of suet put out for the birds. They are quick critters and photographing them was a real challenge. In summer, they have brown pelage, but in winter they acquire a winter white coat save the black tip on their tail (photo below). It is one of the only mammals that has a different name in winter…Long-tailed Weasels become Ermine when they turn white. Note that some have a greenish tinge to their fur.
Fast critters! Ermine are carnivores and specialize in squeezing their narrow body in mice and vole tunnels.
The Glaucous Gull is a big bruiser of a gull…even larger than our Herring Gull. It is an arctic bird that nests only in the Far North including the North Slope of Alaska, Ellesmere Island, northern Labrador and Baffin Island. But we are fortunate that a few winter on the Great Lakes, especially in late fall and early winter when there is little ice on Lake Superior. This juvenile bird (note all white plumage and pink bill with black tip) was photographed in evening light against a dark background of the breakwall in Duluth’s Canal Park.
The above Snow Owls were all photographed in nearby Superior Wisconsin near the Bong Airport…a suitable substitute for arctic tundra for this Snowy. Most of the birds we see in winter are young birds. They gravitate to the industrial ports of Duluth and Superior where there is plenty of food—pigeons, mice, voles, rabbits. To get a good viewing/hunting vantage point, they perch on light poles, buildings (including right above the main entrance to the Superior Middle School!), fences, and even spruce trees—an odd sight for a tundra-dwelling bird).
I love the black and white plumage of this lone male Snow Bunting that I recently photographed near Crex Meadows, Wisconsin. Note that he is nearly in spring breeding plumage, his back will become pure black as will his bill, but he’s worn off the yellowish and brown feather tips of winter. This is unusual in birds who usually go through a complete molt in spring. Snow Buntings only molt once, in the fall. They rely on the feather wear to reveal their spring plumage. They only grace us with their presence in late fall and winter, heading back north to their tundra homes in spring. Males arrive in the arctic when there is still snow and below zero temps to set up territories. Females return about three weeks later.
Shrikes are pint-sized bird predators who are only winter visitors to our “balmy” northern U.S. climes. They “tee-up” on tree tops in open areas to scan for small birds and mice/voles. They also appreciate our bird feeders…a real shrike smorgasboard! They nest in the taiga across Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavit, east to the northern Labrador Peninsula (northern Quebec and Newfoundland ). They are heading back north now. This cooperative dude was photographed near Poplar, Wisconsin. He allowed me to walk right up to him (usually they fly the instant you apply your car brakes!)
Remaining motionless in a snow-blanketed environment is a good survival strategy unless a photographer has already spotted you alongside a Sax-Zim Bog road. This Snowshoe Hare is perfectly adapted to deep snow and extreme cold…and you need any advantage you can when you have feline predators such as Bobcat and Lynx after you.
It was a banner winter for Hoary Redpolls in northern Minnesota. Normally there is a ratio of about 1:100 Hoary’s vs. Common Redpolls. Hoary’s, like their name implies, are paler, whiter, frostier than Common’s, with limited streaking on their flanks, a stubby bill and “pushed in” face and very limited streaking on their rump. Both are winter visitors from the Arctic. They are still around but will soon be heading north.
How could I forget the largest white winter bird of all? The Trumpeter Swans congregate in the thousands on the Mississippi River near Monticello, Minnesota. A nuclear power plant keeps the river open even in the coldest temps.
[All photographed with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens. All hand-held]
**PLEASE SPONSOR ME in my BIG HALF YEAR FOR THE BOG effort to photograph 150 species of birds in Minnesota before June 30th. I am over 60 species now. This is a fundraiser for my non-profit organization…Friends of Sax-Zim Bog. You can pledge per species or in a lump sum. I also have a gallery of images linked here too. THANKS!
SPARKY’S BIG HALF YEAR LINK HERE